During the late 1800s, the great California Mother Lode was overrun by prospectors of all types, sizes, genders, states of freedom and nationalities. The mountainous, treacherous and beautiful land was open to anyone who was sturdy enough to survive their travels and smart enough to stake a proper mining claim. The gold never came to many people who had to abandon their dreams of quick riches and find other ways to make a living.
Still, massive amounts of gold were captured during the early days of the wild, wild West, leading to the belief that most of the gold was extracted. The surprise is that 99 percent of the gold in California’s Mother Lode still lies beneath the ground or rolls and tumbles through the wild and riotous waterways during the Spring thaws.
After the waterways of the north state have finished taking on the vast snow melt that starts out high up in the Sierra Mountains, the riotous forces of the water causes the gold to tumble, rock and roll. In the Summer, when the water levels are low, gold can be found by the savvy or lucky prospector.
There are several reasons why a second Mother Lode gold rush is unlikely to reoccur, however. Virtually every square foot of the land is either owned by private parties or firms, is controlled by the state or national governments, is landlocked, or is unapproachable by any normal means.
According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the best producing federal lands are either claimed or cannot be accessed without the claim holder’s permission. There are only two places in the Mother Lode where the BLM has the authority to allow traditional shovel and pan mining without requiring permission or a permit. Those two places are: The South Fork of the Yuba River and the lower Merced River.
The most promising public sites are often fraught with the dangers of the West. If there are not threats from flora, like poison oak, there are threats from all types of fauna, including mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes and problematic humans. Site access often involves steep climbs or descents through isolated, rough and undeveloped areas.
The waterways can look placid and inviting, but often present immense dangers from hidden and strong currents, chilling waters, and bacterial contaminants such as e-coli that comes from animal and human waste or decomposition. Finally, people who transit the wild and isolated areas can present threats and dangers that are being made worse from California’s economic woes.
The best options for beginners are to find the Mother Lode state parks with the best gold panning sites. Many times, the state park will have easier and safer access to the water and will have better facilities for the day tripper. Some parks have programs and classes that teach gold panning techniques.
For an even easier experience, privately owned camps will offer safe and well controlled gold panning experiences. Mineral Bar and Roaring Camp Mining Company are the two most popular Mother Lode destinations for novice and casual gold prospectors. Mineral Bar is only about an hour away from Sacramento, California which allows for a luxurious stay in town and a day trip to the camp!
The big rule about panning or prospecting for gold on public California Mother Lode lands is that gold surface mining operations are limited to “hand, shovel and pan” or sluicing operations. Underwater vacuuming was a highly popular method that was outlawed by the State of California in all public waterways in 2009.
For detailed information about more advanced gold mining and prospecting, simply visit a local California BLM office, or go to the BLM website to learn about the methods and rules for doing surface mining on public lands in California.
Staking a gold mining claim in California is only for the experts who can get through the rigorous and costly processes that are involved. There have been a lot of scams and problems with businesses that sell bogus or inaccessible claims, so extreme caution is advised when planning to purchase an existing claim.
The surface claims require that the land be worked and managed according to the rules and in ways that are complicated and can add up to a pretty penny. But some claim holders have been rewarded with full surface rights to beautiful vacation and recreation land in the process. The problem is that most of the best areas are already claimed and virtually all of the most promising water access claims are wanted by the BLM, the State of California and local communities in order to make more stretches of water front land available to the public.
At any rate, gold fever can strike at any time these days now that the world economy is so fragile. The novice can find fun and safety, and maybe a tiny fortune by sticking to the most promising, well populated and well managed public parks and private camps that make gold panning much safer and easier.
Those who get serious will find that it takes a rigorous program of research, education, preparation, money and hard work before staking a claim or before striking out to the more isolated and distant sources of gold from the California Mother Lode.